Social action vs. evangelism

God is on the move. Of course, that has always been true, but it is exciting to see so many good things happening in name of Jesus Christ in this day and age. My tendency is to be skeptical of what I would consider a “megachurch” but I must admit happy surprise at two particular large churches I’ve visited recently. In the sermons, both preaching pastors impressed me with their solid biblical teaching and unabashed proclamation of the gospel as well as very specific calls to and opportunities for service.  At one church the congregation was given a detailed goal for the number of families that might look into foster care or adoption. Resources and discussion groups were made available.

This balance of faithfulness to the biblical witness as well as service to humankind has not always been the case in the U.S.  In the 1920’s and at other times in Christian history there has been a debate or schism in the church. One side has seen evangelism as more important than social action and the other side has seen the opposite.  Along with the lack of evangelism by some came the thought that perhaps Jesus did not really perform miracles and possibly much of the Bible was merely myth. One side has seen these views as more “progressive” or “enlightened.” The other side has diminished or ignored the biblical call to social justice and some have avoided lively academic debate of the Scripture.

What did Jesus model? We see that he quoted the Old Testament or alluded to its stories more than seventy-eight times. He trusted the Scripture as authoritative and saw the power of God in miracles. He spoke about spreading the gospel. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20)  Jesus healed numerous people and spoke frequently about serving the poor and helpless. Evangelism and social action were two sides of the same coin.

John Stott in the preface of Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today wrote “Some Christians, anxious above all to be faithful to the revelation of God without compromise, ignore the challenges of the modern world and live in the past. Others, anxious to respond to the world around them, trim and twist God’s revelation in their search for relevance. I have struggled to avoid both traps. For the Christian is at liberty to surrender neither to antiquity nor to modernity. Instead, I have sought with integrity to submit to the revelation of yesterday within the realities of today. It is not easy to combine loyalty to the past with sensitivity to the present.  Yet this is our Christian calling: to live under the Word in the world.”

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